Coping with a sister’s homicide leads to EMS struggles

At first it seemed the best thing to do was to get back into a groove, but bad calls trigger difficult memories and an EMT is now trying to overcome addiction


By EMT, 5 years in EMS

I lost my sister to a homicide that, two years later is still unsolved. I took a week off of the ambulance to try and grieve and cope. Like most medics, I felt the best thing for me to do was to jump right back in the saddle, get life back to normal, get in my groove. The truck was safe. I was good at my job and it always felt like home. It was definitely my comfort zone. My first 24 back things went pretty well until about 0300.

I work transfer EMS and we were dispatched to intercept a helicopter and take the patient and crew to the local county hospital. The patient was a motorcycle vs. SUV victim. When we got to the hospital, the patient was declared brain dead. The family didn’t speak any English and the doctors asked me to translate. I couldn’t very well tell them “no.” I had to deliver the news to this family that this 19-year-old boy was gone.

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Their grief was overwhelming. I felt hot tears in my eyes and ran from the hospital. The next thing I remember is my partner standing over me as I was sitting in the side door well with my face buried in my knees, hyperventilating. I never drank much before that day but I noticed myself drinking pretty heavily after shifts and even abusing prescription pain meds I had from a previous back injury. The meds were over two years old and it was only a 90-day supply and I had taken maybe three when I was initially hurt. I went through that whole bottle in a matter of a month.

I caught myself being short tempered with my patients, something that was so odd for me, as I was known for being a very nurturing provider. A few months ago I joined a group at my church to help deal with my PTSD. It’s getting better but I’m not 100 percent. I still get shaky on some calls. I find myself fighting to catch my breath sometimes after a bad call and sometimes I drink to make the images go away and the screams in my head stop. I’m better than I was two years ago, but I’m not there yet. It’s still not OK for me to tell my partner or my coworkers that I’m struggling. That I’m scared. I don’t want to be seen as weak.

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